You are here: HomeSports2008 02 08Article 138942

Soccer News of Friday, 8 February 2008

Source: AFP

Finals: Lions v Pharoahs Ghana mourns African Nations Cup exit
The Lions of Cameroon dashed Ghana's African Nations Cup title dreams with a 1-0 semi-final win on Thursday to set up a rematch with their opening round conquerors Egypt in Sunday's final.

Defending champions Egypt, seeking their sixth African crown, maintained their impressive run against expectations after struggling to qualify to crush competition favourites Ivory Coast 4-1.

That lop-sided semi-final in Kumasi was a rematch of the 2006 final decided on penalties but this meeting two years on was a far more clear cut affair.

Ahmed Fathy started the rout with Amr Zaky extending the champions' lead in the 62nd minute before Kader Keita reduced the tally for the Ivorians a minute later.

Zaky restored Egypt's two-goal cushion in the 67th minute with Mohamed Aboutrika completing the unscripted demolition in stoppage time.

Egypt's keeper Essam El Hadry, who produced a series of fine saves, said: "I'm the happiest man in the world.

"We are delighted with the performance and the result," added Egypt assistant coach Shawki Gharib.

"This was a repeat of our 2006 final and on Sunday we will have another repeat against Cameroon, who we beat in our group."

The Ivorians coach Gerard Gili insisted the first-half loss of first-choice goalkeeper Boubacar Barry through injury did not adversely affect the fortunes of his team.

"The exit of my goalkeeper was not the reason we lost, his absence only meant I lost a chance to make another substitution. We simply had an off day. We did not expect to lose by such a wide margin but the Egyptians played well and pulled it off."

The last back-to-back winners of the trophy were Cameroon who earlier gate-crashed Ghana's party when substitute Alan Nkong, playing in only his second international, produced the only goal of a tense sometimes scrappy semi-final in Accra.

The midfielder came on in the second half and minutes later fired past keeper Richard Kingson to keep Cameroon on course for a record-equalling fifth title.

It left Ghana, unbeaten to this point, facing a reluctant trip to Kumasi for the inconsequential third place play-off rather than a tilt at capturing their first African crown in over two and a half decades.

Cameroon coach Otto Pfister, who led Ghana to the final 16 years ago, has forged a reputation as an irascible straight-talking 70-year-old but the German was all sweetness and light after upsetting the hosts.

"It's one of the highlights of my career, but this is the life of a coach, you win and you lose," he said.

"Getting through to the final isn't important for me, it's important to the president of Cameroon and his people."

Nkong, a midfielder with Atlente in Mexico, suggested Cameroon's opening first round 4-2 defeat to Egypt spurred the Indomitable Lions to the final.

"We were criticized so much after the first match. Every match has been a final for us since then," said the player who spent eight years in the international wilderness before his recall.

Fellow midfielder Achille Emana emphasised Cameroon's greater mental strength.

"That was the main difference between the teams," he reflected.

Ghana manager Claude Le Roy described the loss as "a huge, huge disappointment".

"I've been sad sometimes in my career but nothing like today," the Frenchman said.

"We were set to play in the final and win it, now all we have to look forward to is the third-place play-off. I'm sorry for the fans."

Le Roy bemoaned a series of knocks the Ghana camp suffered in the run-up to the match.

"This game was very difficult to prepare for. I had (captain) John Mensah out suspended, then yesterday Asamoah Gyan said he couldn't play, then 15 minutes before kick-off Laryea Kingston gets injured."

Cameroon will face Egypt missing Reading defender Andre Bikey who was red-carded in the last minute for pushing over a medical officer tending his own team's goalkeeper.

A section of the Ghana fans pelted him with water bottles as he made his way back to the dressing room.